What is an OPST Commando Head?
The OPST Commando Head Micro Series is a very short Skagit (pronounced skaj-it) head fly line designed for making roll or spey casts on rivers where there's minimal room for backcasting.
Skagit heads are normally used for salmon and sea trout fishing on big double handed fly rods or on switch rods, which sit somewhere between a single hander and a double hander and can be used either way.
The OPST Commando Head differs in being much shorter. The smaller sizes are also lighter in weight, so can be used on conventional single handed fly rods - even a #2 or #3! The style - which arguably isn't one for purists - is commonly known as Micro Skagit.Here's OPST's Ed Ward in action with a #4 weight Commando Head.
What is a Skagit head?
Skagit head lines surfaced on Washington's Skagit River in the late 1990s after steelhead anglers cut down thicker lines to give them shorter heads of the same weight to help them to propel and turn over big trout flies across rivers, without needing as much room for backcasting.
Modern Skagit heads, like the Airflo Skagit Compact, are getting shorter. They're usually 22-26 feet long and are very thick, and they generally only come in weights suited to larger rods. There are only a few shorter Skagit heads around that go below 20 feet and can be used on single handed or switch rods.
Commando Heads are shorter still. The lightest 150 grain version is just 12 feet long, while the biggest 475 grain one is still only 18 feet! This means you need very little line outside the tip to get the rod fully loaded, so you can do a fairly effortless roll or spey cast and watch the fly shoot across the river.
What else do I need to go with the head?
Besides the Skagit head itself, you'll also need some running line to attach to the back of the head and some tips to attach to the front. These allow you to turn your floating Skagit head into a floating line with a fine tip for delicate presentation, an intermediate or a fast sink tip line, all by just swapping the tip section attached to the head.
What sort of running line should I use?
The running line is the bit that you'll be shooting, so it needs to be fairly fine and slick, but also thick enough not to cut into your hands. OPST make their own monofilament running line, called Lazar Line, which they recommend you use. They say it's "the slickest running line out there", and it comes in breaking strains from 25lb up to 50lb. It's not easy to find in the UK, and like the Commando Heads themselves, it's really pricey.
Rio makes a couple of slick monofilament running lines too - Slickshooter being the most commonly used one. However, given that they're all really just posh monofilament fishing line, none of the fancy ones are particularly competitively priced.
I've temporarily taken the cheapskate route and will be trying Sunset Amnesia monofilament at first, as it's one of the most widely used running lines. It's less than a fiver a spool, so I've got little to lose if it doesn't work perfectly.Skagit expert Dave Pinczkowski uses a 200 grain head with Lazar Line and a floating Rio Mow Tip.
How do I attach the Skagit head?
Skagit heads are designed to be easily removed and attached using a loop-to-loop connection, which is why they generally all come with welded loops fitted.
The rear end of the Skagit head is threaded through the loop in the end of your running line and the tip end is threaded back through. When you've pulled the line through, you end up with a sort of handshake connection between the two loops, which can't come undone.
What tips should I get?
Rather than just attaching a tapered leader to the end of the Skagit head, you're supposed to use a specialist tip. These are a bit like poly leaders and taper down from the thickish end of the Skagit head into the narrower leader. They also let you choose between floating, intermediate or sinking.
As you'd expect, OPST makes their own set of tips for use specifically with Commando Heads. Their Commando Floating Tips come in lengths of 5' (20 grain), 7.5' (35 grain) and 10' (50 grain). You can just tie tippet to them, or attach a full tapered monofilament (or fluorocarbon) leader to make your presentation even more delicate.
For Micro Skagit on single handed rods of 6' to 10' they recommend using a 5' tip, like their Micro Tip. They make three of these which are all 50 grains and come in three different sink rates, S2, S4 and S6, which as the name suggests, sink at rates of two, four and six inches per second. As Commando Tips and Micro Tips aren't easily available in the UK, you might want to use a Rio Mow Tip instead.
What size rods can you use them with?
Commando Heads are designed for use on single handed, double handed and switch fly rods. The smaller ones in the Micro Series are Micro Skagit lines that will be popular with those using smaller, lighter line weight single handed rods, primarily on smaller or medium rivers. The bigger ones are for bigger rods and bigger rivers.
How do I pick the right size Skagit head?
Picking a regular fly line is easy. Picking a Skagit head is much trickier. Regular fly lines have an AFTM line weight rating and you generally just pick a #6 line to use on your #6 rod and reel. Skagit heads have their weight measured in grains, and they're also used in conjunction with a tip, which adds further weight.
However, even though you should be using an additional tip, you actually ignore its weight when you're picking the right line for your rod. This is because the tip is invariably below the water and doesn't form the "anchor" creating the friction and loading weight used in the cast.
If you add the weight of the tip to the weight of the head and match their combined weight to your rod, you'll actually end up with an under-loaded rod which doesn't cast well.
With the right weight head, you'll propel the tip and the fly to the far side of the river in a single roll or spey cast, so just ignore the additional weight when selecting the Commando Head to suit your rod.
|Line weight (grains)||Line weight (grams)||Length||Single handed rod weight||Switch rod weight||Double handed rod weight|
|150 grains||9.7 grams||12'||#3||#3||#2|
|175 grains||11.3 grams||12'||#3 or #4||#3 or #4||#2 or #3|
|200 grains||12.9 grams||13'6"||#5||#4||#3|
|225 grains||14.6 grams||13'6"||#5 or #6||#4 or #5||#4|
|250 grains||16.2 grams||13'6"||#6 or #7||#5||#5|
|275 grains||17.8 grams||13'6"||#7 or #8||#6||#5 or #6|
What are OPST Commando Heads like?
These short, thick lines are a sort of pale blue green colour (which OPST calls "Sauk Blue"). They have a welded loop at either end, which are slim and neatly formed, allowing you to easily attach to your running line and your tip, with a simple loop to loop connection.
Since they're tapered with the fat end at the fly end, to allow for the tip of your preferred density, you need to make sure you attach the head in the right direction. Helpfully, the tip end is marked with text bearing the name of the line and the head weight in grains.
What size reel will I need?
Although the Skagit head itself is very thick (easily three or more times thicker than a regular fly line), there's no attached running line and monofilament running line is much thinner than the integrated running line found in conventional fly lines. This means you don't need to buy a huge reel to hold your Commando Head.
Should I remove the head when not in use?
OPST don't state whether this is essential, but I think it would be a good idea. You wouldn't want your expensive head going all curly, so removing it and placing it into a head wallet may be wise.
What sort of casting suits Micro Skagit?
Skagit heads are all designed to be used primarily for roll casts from the Spey casting family, however, you can also overhead cast them as you would with a shooting head. Snap C, snap T, single Spey and double Spey casts, as well as the Perry Poke, are best suited.Here's a great little film featuring fly fisher Silja Longhurst which shows how effortlessly you can flick out a line with virtually no backcast room.
So, what is it like to cast?
First impressions were not good. It's a real handful to cast and makes the rod feel very bouncy and unstable. I was using a Loop Evotec #5, which is fairly fast, and if I'm honest, it felt bloody hideous.
There's clearly a special technique you need to use with these lines that you'll need to try and figure out to prevent your casts looking crap and landing like a stick thrown to a waiting labrador.
After ten minutes, my opinion had changed to a feeling of buyer's remorse and that I had wasted my cash on something that was truly horrible to use. I did not find it the enjoyable experience portrayed in the videos.
You can instantly feel the weight of the head loading the rod, just as it dangles from the tip. Casting it definitely takes some getting used to and is very different to the feel of a conventional line, even something very front heavy like a Barrio SLX.
Obviously, this is just down to my lack of expertise with Skagit lines, but if you've never used one, expect a bit of a learning curve compared to a regular line. It's very extreme in terms of feel. With some practice you'll be able to wang it out a reasonable distance, but I think it's perhaps an acquired taste, and I haven't acquired the taste for it, yet.
Are they expensive?
Unfortunately, yes. After having watched some neat videos on some American sites I thought I'd treat myself and see if they were as good as the videos suggested. A few fly fishing suppliers in the UK were selling them at £50 per line, but they didn't have the 200 grain one I needed, so I ended up getting mine from Ebay for £53 delivered.
Given that it's just 13.5 feet in length, this makes it an eye watering £3.93 per foot! You also need to buy the running line and a tip or two, so it will all add up. Hopefully, I'll figure out how to master it and it will be worth it...
How does the OPST Commando Head compare to an integrated shooting head style fly line?
I can only compare it to the short headed fly lines I've used, including the Barrio SLX, Barrio SLXi and the Barrio Smallstream. They're not really Skagit lines, but they serve a similar purpose, allowing you to make casts without a lot of room behind you for backcasting.
These are all longer in the head than the Commando Head, so you need much more line outside the tip to cast. The Commando Head needs just the 13'6' of its length and you're away. They're neater in design because the tip and running line are integrated, but that also makes them a little less versatile, I suppose.
The integrated lines are neater in design because the tip and running line are integrated, but that also makes them a little less versatile, I suppose. They're also much, much cheaper, with the most expensive Barrio only around £35. They're also much nicer to cast, but you do need more room around you.
So, should I buy one?
I wouldn't buy another one. As Skagit heads go, they're meant to have a good reputation, but they're expensive and definitely an acquired taste.